San Diego, California - When the adults entered the 3-year-old girl’s bedroom in the middle of the night, it wasn’t to check up on her. They were there for the unimaginable purpose of torturing her. To the point she was near death.
When it was finally discovered and she was hospitalized, Megan (not her real name) had 38 fractures. She had a hematoma inside her pancreas and malnourishment meant deteriorating muscle tissue throughout her little body.
Megan distrusted adults. After all, the adults closest to her – her mother and her mother’s boyfriend – were responsible for the traumatic childhood she had endured so far.
The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency social worker assigned to the case had to find a foster family to take Megan in after her eventual release from the hospital.
It had to be foster parents that were equipped to handle a child that came from such a devastating background.
That’s where Randy and Barbie Caldwell came in. The Caldwells, recently named the 2014 San Diego County Foster Parents of the Year, have been caring for children who were affected by maternal drug or alcohol abuse or considered medically fragile. They’ve helped nearly 50 children, mostly infants.
They didn’t hesitate when the call came asking them to take Megan.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘How could anyone not know?’” said Barbie. “Just to think that could happen and no one knew.
“I can’t even comprehend it. It’s unfathomable.”
I Want My Momma Barbie
The Caldwells immediately began visiting Megan in the hospital, even before they formally became her foster parents. Barbie said she, her husband or her daughter-in-law was there every single day. No members of her birth family ever visited.
Megan celebrated her fourth birthday in the hospital. The Caldwells threw her what was apparently the first birthday party she had ever had. Megan wasn’t able to eat any birthday cake, however. She still had a feeding tube at that point.
“There are tons of marks all over her. Scars she will have the rest of her life,” said Barbie.
The Caldwells patiently gained Megan’s trust.
“One time I was saying to the nurse, ‘I want my Barbie,’ and they brought me a Barbie (doll),” said Megan. “But I said, ‘I want my Momma Barbie.’”
She was able to come home with the Caldwells about 16 months ago and she’s blended right in to their family. Barbie said Megan has bonded with her 5-year-old grandson.
“She’s now able to experience normal rules and that they apply to everyone, and that yes, they will still love me if do something bad,” said Barbie. “She’s been able to blossom into what a child her age should be.”
Barbie said they’ve taught Megan how to keep herself safe, because eventually she will be leaving their foster home.
“We’ve taught her what’s OK and not OK for people to do to her or anyone else and who are safe people you can go to for help,” she said.
Barbie also taught Megan her phone number so she can all anytime and how to call 9-1-1. Megan now knows you can dial 9-1-1 and even if you’re in a situation where you can’t speak, you can lay the phone down and a dispatcher can hear you and help will find you.
Barbie has wanted to be a foster parent since she was in high school. She had a friend who had a good foster family.
“Of course you don’t know all the details about it then, but it made me want to be a foster parent and so we set a goal that when our oldest son turned 16, we would become foster parents and we did.”
A Family Affair
The Caldwells’ three sons – now 30, 24 and 22 – all pitched in with the foster children the family took in.
“It truly is a family sacrifice to be foster parents,” Caldwell said. “My own kids had to give up a lot over the years, they had to sacrifice.”
Caldwell said family trips would sometimes get canceled when a child in their care got sick.
|"I believe you can help them by healing them, teaching them and moving them along in life.|
|-Barbie Caldwell, Foster Parent of the Year|
It helped that the family mostly took in infants. Barbie said they’ve had only three older children, including Megan.
Barbie leads Options for Recovery, a support group for parents of foster children who are medically fragile or were affected by alcohol or drug abuse.
“The Options program is phenomenal,” Barbie said.
The program is five days at Rady Children’s Hospital where the foster parents meet with trauma doctors, psychologists, the child abuse team from the Chadwick Center for Children & Families and a panel of drug-addicted parents in recovery.
“Once I took that class, it all made sense,” she said.
Barbie is also a member of the Quality Parenting Initiative that’s preparing trainings for social workers and foster parents, is on the North County Foster Parent Association and serves as a foster parent mentor at Grossmont College.
Seven years ago, she started Connected Through Kids, a non-profit that offers training, mentoring and tutoring for foster parents and an outlet for social activities with foster families.
“We work with foster parent associations in East county and San Marcos,” Barbie said. “We do social activities like plays, Padres games, picnics and respite days.”
It’s very important for foster parents to also take care of themselves and make sure they have a break once in a while.
The group also throws a huge annual Christmas party.
“It’s all to support the families,” Barbie said.
The Caldwells decided early on they weren’t going to adopt any children. After raising her own sons, Barbie said they decided being foster parents was the best way to help.
“I believe you can help them by healing them, teaching them and moving them along in life,” she said. “It’s hard to say goodbye and sometimes you never see them again.”
Barbie admits there’s been more than a couple that have tugged at her heartstrings.
“We’ve kept in touch with a lot of them and we just got invited to the birthday party of one of the children that’s 13 now.”
Speaking of birthday parties, Megan just had her fifth birthday party at the Caldwell’s home. This time she was able to eat cake.
“She’s pretty empowered right now,” said Barbie. “Her therapist at Rady that she sees once a week has been working on that with her and we’ve been getting her all the services that are available to her.
“She’s going to have a shot at life now.”
You can call 1-877-792-5437 for more information on becoming a foster parent in San Diego County.
Tomorrow is the first annual Live Well San Diego 5K Run/Walk to raise awareness of adoptions and foster care in the County.